In 1999, Chuck Palahniuk’s most famous novel, Fight Club, was adapted into a big-budget blockbuster by Brad Pitt. Although the film struggled initially, it eventually found a wide cult audience. For his latest film adaptation, however, Palahniuk is going small scale. His 2002 novel Lullaby, written during the trial of the man who killed Palahniuk’s father, is currently seeking funding for a film on Kickstarter. Ahead of the project reaching its $250,000 goal, Palahniuk spoke with EW about writing his first screenplay, the benefits of the Kickstarter model, and, eventually, what French philosopher Jacques Derrida thought of zombies.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Your books have been adapted into big films before, most notably with David Fincher’s Fight Club. How did you decide to do Lullaby as a more personal Kickstarter production?
PALAHNIUK: Well Choke was also really low-budget. I think it was $1.5 million, so it was a big step down from Fight Club. I think that’s just as big a gamble as people can take with my work, because it’s so execution-dependent. I love that phrase they used for Choke. It’s very ED, and Fight Club in retrospect was a success, but upon initial release it lost jobs for so many people and was such a huge failure. My stories are still very execution-dependent, and they might need forever to build an audience, so a lot of money upfront is probably not very wise.
How do you like the Kickstarter model?
It’s fascinating. I don’t think I really have strong feelings one way or another. It’s so interesting to watch it take shape. There have been so many changes in my lifetime, it’s hard to have strong opinions about them all.
Is it accurate to describe Lullaby as you working through the death of your father and his killer being sentenced to death?
Well that was one aspect of it. I also wanted to deal with cultural appropriation, how things that were fantastically sacred and unspoken to previous cultures become a style or decorative motif of the next culture. Cultural appropriation seems to be such a hot topic right now, and how we loot one another’s culture for bright, shiny things.
What was it like writing a screenplay for the first time?
I was so glad I had done comics before I tackled this, because comics really impressed upon me that things had to be kept moving and there had to be gesture and constant expression and placement of people within a visual frame. Comics really gave me a primer for reading screenplays and making things not so talk-y.
That’s right, you just did Fight Club 2 as a comic series. What specific lessons did you take from that project to apply here?
Keeping dialogue to a minimum, expressing as much as possible through gesture, and always having an activity or a task in every scene, so people are always doing things that underscore or undermine what’s being said. Just being aware of all the different points of communication that are present.
Did you make any significant changes to the plot of Lullaby in this adaptation?
I got rid of a lot of stuff in the first act so they could get on the road as quickly as possible and the discovery process would go along very quickly. Keep the discovery process really fast, then put people into conflict as quickly as possible.
With both this screenplay and Fight Club 2, you were revisiting earlier works you had done years later. What was interesting about that?
Boy, how overwritten the earlier works were. There’s so much in Lullaby that just should not be there as a book, and the movie certainly couldn’t include it. Fight Club not so much, but Fight Club does have a lot of really ragged tangents in it. They’re so precious that I had to leave them in, but they really don’t serve a purpose. In a way they were kind of a blessing because whenever I had to go back and rediscover something that hadn’t been in the movie, there would always be some strange little appendix or vestigial tail in the story that I could pick up and make important in the next book.
Just as people are still talking about about cultural appropriation, the death penalty is also still an ongoing conversation in American culture. How has your stance changed over the years?
Boy. It’s all mixed up in my mind. I can argue in my head either way and convince myself for one position for a few years and then it’ll resolve to a new position. It’s something that will never be resolved in my head. In a way, it’s one of these undecidable things that Jacques Derrida talked about having so much power because they can’t be resolved. It’s like how Derrida explains the zombie as the thing that is not alive or dead and must be resolved one way or another. That’s why zombie culture is so big, because it’s not binary. How do we view this thing that’s impossible to be with? In a way, zombie culture is a lesson in learning to live in a world you can’t resolve, and you have to learn to be in. It’s the new normal. Isn’t that the phrase young people use?
Your work has a tendency to accumulate dedicated fans. Did this Kickstarter project help you feel more connected to them?
Yeah, exactly. I’m thrilled to be part of the process. I helped out a friend who worked on a horror movie years ago. So all of these donor names went into a special tribute in the back of my book, Beautiful You. I was glad to do that, and it’s nice to be connected with people. So much of my job is working alone.